I was very quick to notice that I was the only brown-skinned person on the bleachers. You could argue that I shouldn’t care, or that I shouldn’t call attention to it in my own brain, but the truth is, everyone that has ever been the minority in a situation has definitely taken inventory in their own heads. To anyone looking at the bleachers full of parents, I was the only natural-haired, black woman sitting on this crowded apparatus…and I was very aware.
My peripheral vision had stealthily noticed individuals who would look at me, back at the gym floor, then back at me, and then back at the gym floor trying to figure out which child belonged to me. Their silent questions would be answered when my beautiful, fair-skinned daughter would yell, “Hi Mommy,” as she walked by the stands to her next set…and I was very aware.
I hadn’t noticed the mom sitting to my lower left. Well, I was aware she was there, but I hadn’t noticed her… not until her 3-ish-year-old daughter tiptoed up to her after being called. “Sit right here,” she said to her daughter pointing at the stand directly below me. She slightly tugged her daughter’s hand, as any mother would, to guide her daughter to the seat.
Her daughter resisted.
“No. It’s spider,” said the daughter pointing directly at me.
Our section of the bleachers went silent…or maybe it didn’t…but it felt like it did. Was she pointing at me?
The mother turned and looked at me, a moment of panic washed over her face as our eyes met. In our current times of what can be described as racial turmoil in this country, her daughter’s declaration seemed ill timed. She said her daughter’s name in a hushed tone following it with a more forceful, “Sit down!”
“No,” little girl repeated as forcefully as she could, “It’s spider!” She pointed directly at me again; leaving no doubt that she meant what she said the first time.
I feel like I should take a brief intermission here to let you in on a little secret about my ‘tell.’ Whenever someone directly insults me, does that ‘compliment that’s not a compliment’ thing, or accuses me of something I didn’t do, I furrow my brow, tilt my head to the right, and smirk. Mind you I didn’t realize I did this until a very close friend pointed it out to me one day. Since then, I have become very aware of this millisecond of time this move takes before whomever I am about to address is about to hear from me; usually starting with the phrase, “First of all,” in a reserved, understated tone.
“No,” the little girl three-peated to her mother. She pointed…at me, “It’s spider.”
Was it my hair? Because on that particular day it was giving all the life with its naturalness.
Was it m wardrobe? Because I had production meetings earlier in the day I had on business attire.
Was it the fact that I was black? This black woman with this natural hair sitting among people that don’t look like me, and the only way this little girl knew how to react was to call me a spider? Seriously? Had society gotten to the point where children are so sheltered that when they see someone that looks completely different from them their first choice is to compare them to an animal?
And what about this mother? Her face growing ever redder from the fact that her daughter was refusing to sit down in front of this black woman whom she was calling a spider! Did it not occur to her that maybe this was a teachable moment? Had she not recognized the fallacy in which her daughter was categorizing the only black person on the bleachers? Is this one of those situations where she’ll laugh with her husband later because she thought it cute?
I have been called many things in my life when I have found myself the minority in certain situations. To date there is no name I haven’t heard, no comparison I haven’t gotten, no insult that hadn’t been thrown my way due to the color of my skin. But this, this was new.
And then I felt it; my brow furrowed, my head tilted, and I smirked. My brain screamed to me, “Are you about to read this 3-year-old and her mother?
My body had already made the necessary preparations…this plane was about to take off…
And then I paused.
I took in my surroundings.
I glanced down at my twins who were doing their best to read books they had brought with them; I glanced at my oldest son, who was inaudibly encouraging his sister out on the floor, and I glanced at my daughter, executing a fairly pristine flip on the uneven bar.
I exhaled, and glanced down to collect my thoughts…
…and let out an audible and rather high-pitched, “Oh!”
The mother turned around, her eyes wide in horror.
To our surprise, a rather moderately sized, multi-legged creature had taken up residence on my knee. It wasn’t of the arachnid variety, but to a 3-year-old little girl, it was a spider just the same.
I quickly scooped up whatever it was, and set it free right outside the entrance. (And yes I washed my hands.) “Thank you, sweetie.” I said to the little girl as I returned to my seat. She promptly plopped down in front of me…exactly where her mother had implored her to sit before.
The pause I took made a difference.
This isn’t the solution to achieve world peace.
This isn’t the answer to end all racism.
Nobody handed anybody a Pepsi.
This is just an example that proves that sometimes, it helps to take a moment and assess the situation. Who knows? It might save you, or anybody else, from some unnecessary backlash in the end.
You know I’m—-
Oh, oh, oh, one more thing….do me a solid: don’t use or share this post to prove your point that black people don’t need to react when met with certain circumstances. Pausing worked in this situation.
Please be advised, if a moment calls for it, I will tilt my head…. and proceed.
You know I’m right.